Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown delights

Green chile cheeseburger samples were available at the Railyard Saturday during a culinary smackdown that netted Santa Fe’s Real Burger the judge’s award. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — For $15, visitors to the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market Saturday got a ticket to sample the seven entries – either a slider or a slice of a regular-sized burger – and vote for the People’s Choice Award.

The burgers ranged from simple to elaborate.

Fernando Olea of the venerable Bert’s Burger Bowl proclaimed his famous downtown drive-in the originator of the green chile cheeseburger.

“We’ve been serving this in Santa Fe for 60 years,” he said, “the way locals like it.”

“We are the tradition,” he said. The traditional Santa Fe GCCB has only chile and onions as condiments, according to Olea, although – perhaps a nod to nouveau cuisine – Bert’s cooks were adding a few baby greens to top things off on Saturday.

At the serving tent for Terra Restaurant at the Rancho Encantado resort in Tesuque, executive chef Andrew Cooper was adding another non-standard element – a dollop of house-made barbecue sauce that included a blast of chipotle. The bun was haute, too – green chile and cheddar cheese brioche.

“We put a lot of love into it,” Cooper said. “Playing with food is what we do.”

Rita Granger of Santa Fe, standing in line to try another competitor’s burger, had tried both Bert’s and Terra’s. She said the Terra burger was delicious, but preferred Bert’s more standard version.

Another sampler liked most everything she tasted, but couldn’t handle Cowgirl’s pink, rare meat.

The judges had tried all the entries before noon – seven burgers in 70 minutes. Standing as the group discussing the burgers among themselves they seemed to agree that good “char” on the meat was a positive. One entry was dissed for being “like a meatball.”

“Number three was a mess,” one judge opined.

In a brief group interview, four of the judges agreed that the smackdown had been great and picking the top entry was difficult. None of the chile was too hot, they said. “The cheese tamed the chile,” said Michael Bauer, food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.

They said the flavor of the chile and the flavors of roasting and smoke on the peppers was more important.

Also among the judges were Cheryl Jamison of Tesuque, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author; Cathy Barber, food, travel and lifestyle editor for the Dallas Morning News; Kate Krader, restaurant editor for Food & Wine magazine; Ellise Pierce, cookbook authore and new Santa Fe resident; and Santa Fe New Mexican publisher Ginny Sohn.

By the end of the contest, John Chavez, of Real Burger, had taken the judge’s award. He thanked his family and everyone who showed up to the contest.

“Thank you for this very, very prestigious honor,” he said to the crowd. “I greatly appreciate everything.”

Taking people’s choice was Patrick Lambert of Cowgirl. He said the win based on the votes of the attendees felt great. He wanted to encourage the other contestants.

“Everyone’s a winner,” he said.

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